by Hilary White
CHICAGO, February 28, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Longtime Chicago pro-life activist, Joseph Scheidler, has again won in the Supreme Court in a twenty-year-old case brought against him by the National Organization for Women, the leading US radical feminist activist organization. The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that the charge of extortion could not be applied to pro-life demonstrations outside abortion facilities.
The case dates to 1986 when NOW claimed that pro-life protests outside abortion facilities constituted extortion and could be prosecuted under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) and Hobbs Acts, laws designed to combat drug dealers and organized crime.
“I am mystified that I had to go to the trouble and expense of appearing before the Supreme Court three times,” said Scheidler, National Director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League. “The Court was right when they ruled for us 8-1 in 2003, but the National Organization for Women refused to acknowledge defeat. They convinced the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to keep the case alive, in spite of the Supreme Court’s clear mandate to end it.”
NOW brought the case back to the appeals court arguing that the RICO statute still applied and that an injunction to keep pro-life sidewalk counselors and picketers away from abortion facilities should still be in effect. The head of the three-judge panel at the Circuit Court of Appeals is Judge Diane Wood, who throughout the duration of the Scheidler case admitted her affiliation with Chicago NOW and Planned Parenthood.
“Naturally I am gratified to be vindicated once again by the United States Supreme Court,” said Scheidler who is considered a folk hero among North American pro-lifers.
Scheidler told LifeSiteNews.com he thinks this is finally the end of it. “I think they’ve definitely been badly beaten. The ruling makes it clear they would be pretty ambitious to think they’ve got a chance of bringing it back.”
He said that the decision is going to be a boon for pro-lifers in the US. “It’s going to open up the floodgates of activism,” he said. “People have been afraid they would face the RICO and the huge triple damages. People are going to feel free to get involved now.”
Social activists and the American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) had sided with Scheidler arguing that similar lawsuits and injunctions could be used to thwart their efforts to change public policy or agitate for better wages and working conditions.
Scheidler’s attorney Thomas Brejcha said, “This unanimous ruling is not just a victory for pro-life activists, but for anyone who chooses to exercise his First Amendment rights to effect social change.” Brejcha is chief counsel of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society Pro-Life Law Center and has led Scheidler’s battle with NOW since it inception in 1986.
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